After much thought, I've come up with a form of government that is even more robust, fair, and functional than Democracy. It doesn't just serve the interests of the majority, it literally serves everyone's interests, and it does so in a streamlined and non-bureaucratic way.
I'm not going to go out on a limb and call it revolutionary. I'm not trying to foster a sense of antiestablishmentarianism either. What I have is just an idea, but a pretty powerful one. It's time to put your defenses down, just stick with me on this for a half a page, and by the end of it you'll be saying, "Wow I wish this were true." At the very least, I hope to open your eyes to the way we think about government in general.
First off let me explain why I love democracy, but why it just doesn't cut it for me. The word democracy comes from the greek word: demokratia. demos means "people" and krátos meaning "rule/strength." In principle, this is exactly what democracy is; it derives its strength from the whole of the people. There may be one or several people at the seat of power, but at least the people put them there. It's a great idea too, because it mitigates totalitarian authority often manifested in dictatorships, monarchies, and the like. At the very least, democracy attempts to allow a body people to govern themselves by letting the majority of the people decide who is governing them.
But there seems to be an inherent problem with democracy, in that not everyone is happy with the decisions that are made. Granting a majority their wish often ignores the views, opinions, and interests of a minority. Democracy operates under the assumption that everyone should be given what the majority wants. It doesn't make everyone happy, it only has to make enough people happy. "Majority" can be a funny word though, it can mean percentages like 99%, 90%, 75%, 60%, 51%, even 49%. If you want to think of an example of when a majority didn't get its way...think back to the U.S. 2000 presidential election. There are systems in place, whether intentional or not, that can skew the national consensus of even a presidential election. But, the simple fact of that matter is: what's right for the majority, isn't always right for everyone.
In addition to the fact that not everyone gets what they want in a democracy, there is another complicating factor: agreement. Even finding a consensus among a majority of people can take painstaking effort. Often, the process involves political posturing, grandstanding, monetary investment in the form of campaigning and lobbying, all for the simple reason of convincing undecided people to join a "side." These aren't necessarily bad things, but they can seriously bog down any political decision and make it a bureaucratic mess. Think of all the concessions and 3rd party interests that are tagged onto legislative bills just to make them "pass." Such concessions represent the weird process of trying to appease people, that often leaves the taxpayer caught in the crossfires. Pork projects, earmarks, and other special interest budgets grease the insides of the political pipelines in an effort to make more controversial laws pass. Is this really the way it has to be? Or is politics as usual something we've simply grown accustomed to?
I set out to address these problems by posing the question: what would the world look like if we gave everyone what they wanted? A few knee-jerk words come to mind, including chaos, anarchy, corruption, etc. and I had to toss them all aside, because I wasn't interested in preconceptions, I was interested in reality. What would it actually take to work? This is where it starts to get heavy, and the "much thought" part comes in. The idea began to make sense when I realized that, in a vast majority of political disagreements--even ones we would consider stale and immutable--all the sides can get what they want. So Let me introduce an idea to you that I affectionately dub: factionalism. Merriam-Webster defines the word as: "a party or group (as within a government) that is often contentious or self-seeking." Expectedly, it should have a negative connotation associated with it. "Contentious" and "self-seeking" people and their parties are often at the core of political disagreement, contrary to the wishes of the majority, and enemy of quick decisive action.
The opening Wikipedia entry for "Political faction" reads: A political faction is a grouping of individuals, especially within a political organization, such as a political party, a trade union, or other group with a political purpose. It may also be referred to as a power bloc, or a voting bloc. The individuals within a faction are united in a common goal or set of common goals for the organization they are a part of, not necessarily shared by all of that organization's members. They band together as a way of achieving these goals and advancing their agenda and position within the organization.
The two perspectives above are absolutely correct, but they are constantly thought of as participatory bodies within in democracy. No! Throw that notion out the window. The kind of government I'm about to describe is actually a bit harder to depict than you would think. I was going to invent a new word for it by going back to Greek. It turns out that the greek word for faction is φατρία or "fatria"...which would make what I'm talking about a fatriarchy or fatarchy...depending on how you look at it. Either way, I couldn't help but mentally defaulting to the imagination of "a government run by fat people" and I couldn't live with THAT irony. So, for our purposes, what I'm about to describe is in the same vein of a democratic government, except its simply called a factionalist government.
A factionalist government operates under two basic principles:
1) On as many issues as possible, every adult should be allowed to decide what is best for them.
2) There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Admittedly, there are various ways of applying factionalism and varying degrees that it can be adhered to. For simplicity's sake, I'll explore what "soft" factionalism might look like if it was applied to the U.S. government.
Imagine that, way back in 1776, the founding fathers knew of the power of factionalism, and decided to include it in the constitution. In an alternate future there would still be...
1 president + cabinet members to decided the direction of the government in the white house
9 supreme court justices to uphold/interpret the law in the supreme court
100 equal-state representative senators to make/pass laws in the senate
435 equal-population represenatives to make pass/laws in the house
X number of faction representatives to determine how tax money is spent in a factional congress
You might be thinking..."What? Doesn't the Legislature and White House determine how tax money is spent?" Normally yes, but in this case they don't have that power. They simply have the power to make/pass laws that reflect the views of the constitution. Here the main difference is that the power to control what the government finances with tax money rests with the factionalist congress, and ultimately the people.
Why tax money? Why make that separate? If you think about it, the government currently has two major sources of power: military and financial. It uses both to protect and preserve its existence. If a government didn't have a military (or a means of enforcing its rules) it would become a joke. Likewise, if no one paid taxes to the government it would have very little means to do anything. But governments are not in the business of making money, they are in the business of collecting and spending it in order to benefit the people. At least thats the theory. Again, under the light of "problematic democracy" we see a conflict of interest emerge. Right now you pay your taxes, which are effectively pooled together with everyone else's, and then divided in a myriad of ways to support whatever the majority decides it should support. In THEORY you have representatives to act in your best interests, but that's not always the case.
Back in our alternative and hypothetical US government, factionalism says: "You have the power to decide how your taxes are spent." And "Your tax money will only benefit you." To make these claims more concrete, imagine the scenario firsthand.
It's election time and you're charged with deciding who will represent you in the factionalist congress. There are such institutions at the local, state, and federal level, but primarily you're interested in the federal candidates. You pick the default party for the local and state level, but your choice at the national congress is much more discriminating. Many have stepped up to the plate and made pitches on how they will manage your tax money with their respective factions. If you didn't agree with any of them, you could make your own faction, even as an individual. The point is that any number of people can be leaders of their own faction. In this election there happen 4012 candidates, but only 7 of them have gained the kind of attention similar to the kind gained by presidential candidates. You've followed the coverage of two in particular, Candidate "A" and "B," who have both reached large audiences with their pitches. Ultimately you decide for candidate A, who has revealed a plan to reduce national debt, while boosting spending on alternative energy, education, and job creation.
The results of the election come out soon after, with the president, representatives, and senators each winning with a majority of votes. The factionalist election is different however...
In the results, Candidate A (your representative) received 25% of the vote. Candidate B received 37%. Candidate C got 13% Candidate D got 20%. Candidates E through G collectively got 4% of the vote, and the other 1% was split among 4005 other factions. There is no majority winner, all 4012 people are now representatives. Technically, each person could represent their own faction, with their own ideas and interests. The number of possible factions is equivalent to the number of adults able to vote. It is thought that people have more interesting things to do with their lives than follow politics all year round, so they are more likely to choose a representative to do it for them. 4012 is an arbitrary number in reality it could be ANY number. It might be 1, 2, 7, or 100,000. The most important thing to remember is that, regardless of geographical boundaries, each representative only controls the tax money of the people that voted for them. "A" will make decisions that will affect his 25%, "B" will decide what to do with the money of the 37% and only for that 37%, "candidate W" will decide what to do with his .006% share, and so on. How is this possible? Consider a real life scenario.
The economy is in turmoil, and President Obama meets with the factional congress to urge them to create a stimulus package plan. Some factional reps think it is a good idea in line with the political philosophy they represent. Other factional reps disagree, they think that tax cuts will help the most. Still, others think that they could best serve their people by using the money to create jobs. And then there are some who think that doing nothing will be best. There can still be discussion over what is the best course of action, but in a factionalist congress, there doesn't need to be agreement, or even consensus over what to do...there is simply action. Several bills are proposed, and while many factional leaders can support a single bill, more often than not they may craft their own. The bills are not approved or signed by the president or house or senate, they are simply spending bills that take effect immediately. It behooves a factional rep to spend his or her money wisely.
In the coming weeks, each rep acts to assist his or her respective electorate. Candidate A supports a stimulus package, so you get a check in the mail. So does the 25% of the population who voted for him. Your next door neighbor voted for candidate B, who supported tax cuts, so he won't pay as much in taxes next April. Your other next door neighbor voted for candidate C, who supports job creation. He's in need of another job at the moment, and because he voted for candidate C he gets priority over anyone else applying for jobs created with C's tax money. Another neighbor of yours who lives across the street voted for W. who chose to do nothing. She is beginning to wonder why she didn't vote for someone else.
What's happening is that people are getting exactly what they asked for. Factionalism takes the sides of a bitterly divided idea and gives each faction what they want. Maybe one idea is better than the others. Suppose that a stimulus package proved to be the greatest help, and doing nothing was a horrible idea. Factionalism allows even bad ideas to be put into action, but they will ONLY affect the people that supported them, and in time people will be able to see what works and what doesn't. In the coming weeks, your neighbor across the street might implore their rep "W." to do something to help. On the other hand, maybe one idea doesn't work best for everyone, but a multitude of options were the best. Factionalism allows that too, giving some people stimulus packages, and others jobs, and others still the tax cuts.
You might point out that the amount of tax money that faction leaders receive is limited, how can they still operate? Fortunately, they only have to make decisions for their electorate. So "W." will have enough resources to serve .006% of the people, just as "A" will have enough resources to serve 25% of the population. What we normally think of as a 900 billion dollar stimulus package for 100% of the population will become a 225 billion dollar stimulus package for a quarter of the people.
Factional leaders also have the unique responsibility of managing a momentary budget. It is created the day after election day, when all the taxes of their electorate are funneled into their management pool. It is dissolved during the next election, and balanced out by giving back the surplus to the electorate as a refund or billing them even more for the debt. In this way, there is no national debt. If one representative wants to use deficit spending, he or she will bestow that debt upon ONLY the electorate of that given election period. If another rep is particularly good at managing money and has a surplus, ONLY his or her electorate will be given back the excess.
It gets cooler. Suppose that rep "A" has the political philosophy that sales taxes discourage consumer spending, and wants to implement the practice that his electorate will only have one large income tax and no others. Meanwhile rep "B" believes that income tax encourages unemployment, so he institutes a "sales tax only" policy on his electorate. You voted for "A" so the next time you buy something at the store, your ID card is linked to you and you simply pay the retail price and no extra. At the same time, a significant portion of your paycheck is given to Uncle Sam, or more specifically, candidate A. Your neighbor (who voted for B) pays a hefty amount of sales tax on anything that she buys, but receives all of her pay check in full. Your OTHER neighbor pays average taxes on nearly everything because they voted for another candidate. With today's technology, It's all possible to manage at the same time, in the same way that people from different tax brackets pay different amounts of income taxes.
What about corruption?
It goes both ways, taxpayers cheat the system to pay less, and politicians cheat the system to get more. A taxpayer can try to get the best of both worlds by claiming to have voted for different candidates, but thats where the "enforcement" part of government would come in, and they would face serious, serious fines for doing so, much as tax fraud is enforced now.
Is it possible that some reps will support their own side projects? Maybe. The recent scandals of England's Parliament highlight the audacity of such acts It is thought that earmarks would cease to exist, but consider that a factional rep wants to take an extra $100,000 off of his electorate to support the cleaning of his moat. The difference is, anyone can be a rep. Imagine another more honest rep with the exact same platform as the previous one, who could budget exactly the same and give that $100,000 surplus back to the electorate. Who is more likely to be voted for again? Also with increased transparency, a factional rep has to make the electorate aware of everything their taxpayer money is supporting. Effective reps that can manage tax money, give the electorate everything they want, and not go into deficit will be glorified and re-elected. Corrupt or inept reps that go into deficit spending or fail to serve their people will hopefully never be re-elected again.
Basically a rep will:
1) decide how much to tax their electorate
2) decide how to spend the electorate's money with a budget
3) represent a a particular political ideology
Ultimately the factions that can tax their electorate the least and help them the most will survive. It suddenly becomes an evolutionary competition, with no room for corruption, pork spending, or deficit. Only the strongest survive.
If anyone could be a rep, won't some people choose to be their own rep and pay no taxes at all? Theoretically yes, but in a factionalist government, consider the implications. If a faction neglected paying taxes for police or fire protection, they would still theoretically be covered, but would be charged through the nose if they ever had to use such services.
Healthcare? The factions that pay into it, get the coverage. The ones that don't, don't.
Education? If your faction supports local schools, your kids get a serious discount, if not, pay up.
Stem cell research? If your faction supports it, a record is kept and you get a serious discount on the technology if it becomes usable. If not, you don't.
National parks? If your taxes help pay for the upkeep of national parks...you're in free, if not pay up.
Similar logic can be applied to many situations where taxes have the potential to benefit everyone. Accordingly, if you haven't paid for it, you don't get your free lunch.
Speaking of free lunch, what about concepts like welfare? Housing assistance? Soup kitchens? Foreign aid? There is a peculiar aspect of government that takes from the "rich" and gives to the "poor." Basically, a sequence of forced-altruism makes people spend money to improve the lives of the impoverished. For a taxpayer, the benefits of doing so are not direct, or immediately obvious, although I would argue that they improve society as a whole. I would strongly suspect that although some callous people would refuse to commit any help to worthy causes, the vast majority of altruistic giving would continue. Factional reps could certainly push political agendas that help the poor, and they would likely win support of voters too. The aformentioned altruistic programs would not cease to exist, but instead they would continue through forged partnerships between like-minded factions, seeking to solve common problems.
In fact we might see a variety of factions emerge from a variety of extremes. Some might leave most of the money in the taxpayer's hands and let them fend for themselves, others might tax a high percentage out of member's money but offer nice perks. The point is, people should always be able to decide what is best for them. Their different ideas might not seem mutually compatible, but with a little political engineering...people of different political ideologies can live side by side in harmony. Capitalists, communists, anarchists...yes, they all get what they want.
Finally, perhaps there are some issues in which taxpayer money truly has to benefit everyone at once, without individual factions receiving fractional support. Military spending might fall under this category. For these, a majority weighted vote by factional leaders would be necessary. For the vast majority of issues though, multiple approaches are possible. Factionalism allows all of those approaches to be realized. It's not "Having your cake and eating it too"...but "Walking into an ice cream shop and letting everyone choose their own flavor."
Currently, the US government operates as one giant faction, collecting taxes from everyone, and deciding how to spend that money. From what we've seen, it's not always in the best interests of the people and not everyone supports it equally. Remember the bridge to nowhere? Smaller, more specific factions would allow people to have greater if not direct influence over how their taxes serve the society they live in. Meanwhile, the legislature could focus on real issues with law, instead of getting bogged down over funding.
Keep in mind the above examples are all elements of a soft factionalist government, centered around the factional use of tax money. In this case, these factions are united with the common law, or constitution. Theoretically, a scenario of hard factionalism exists, which allows even factional laws and constitutions, but that concept is so alien that I will not delve it here.
So a quick 10 point recap:
1) In a democracy, not everyone wins.
2) In a factionalist government, everyone wins.
3) Factionalist ideals take ideas that are normally disagreed about and let each person have their way, in a way that will only affect each person.
4) In a factionalist U.S. for instance, each person would have the power to decide how their tax money is spent.
5) Every person who wants to start a faction, can.
6) Factions are never exclusive, any person can join any faction and switch at any election.
7) Factions only have the power to make decisions for the people that have joined
8) Factions don't get bogged down in argument, search for majority, or concessions for earmarks.
9) Over time, only the best-run factions will survive, and the simultaneous operation of multiple factions allows voters to see which are the best.
10) "Walking into an ice cream shop and letting everyone choose their own flavor."
I believe current day technology makes some of the logistics of factionalism, while seemingly complex, completely possible. Feel free to comment, ask questions, let me know if its brilliant, idiotic, extraordinary, or hopelessly flawed. I've been proposing this idea to people for a while and for the most part, they would actually like to live under a factionalist government but just don't think its possible. To that I say, "What's the point of optimism without ambition?" Such an idea gains ground when you simply spread the word. Hope you've enjoyed it.
Rees D. Sloan